Of Grinding Lolas, Belting Mayors and the Kindness of Caramoanons
It was close to dusk and I was sitting near the banca’s bow absorbing each and every splash as wave after wave pounded our wooden vessel. Without the benefit of a rain sheet, I was also being drenched by a freakish late afternoon downpour.
“Minsan. Halimbawa, ngayon.” I delicately replied.
At last, after a really long day, we finally parked our boat in Daraga, a small fishing village in Lahuy Island. This was where Leia, Mhef, Dondon and I were going to spend the night. We originally planned of setting up camp at one of the beaches we spotted but our guides insisted that we take up on their offer.
Several hours earlier we arrived at the town of Caramoan armed only with Mhef’s knowledge of the place having visited twice already and being a Bicolano herself. But Gota Beach, her usual go-to place was closed to the public because Survivor Asia was filming there. We found it kind of frustrating because the presence of a bunch of foreigners was denying access to travlers. It would’ve been okay if they picked an “isolated” island (true to the Survivor premise) but Gota Beach is what White Beach is to Puerto Galera. Puntahin kung baga. Even locals are barred from entering the premises. Even the fishermen who live there were rudely displaced. Something is seriously wrong here.
It’s a good thing there are so many places in Caramoan. All undiscovered.
We were instructed to come knocking on the mayor’s door. Unannounced, but having no choice, we dropped in anyway and came upon who probably is the kindest mayor ever. Considering we were total strangers, he opened up his home, fed us, gave us all the info we needed and even sent out his sister and 2 other municipal employees to serve as our guides. This was on a Saturday! Asking about the Gota Beach and the Survivor Asia issue, the mayor lamented that it was out of his hands as the orders are stern and direct from the governor himself, without coordination with the municipal government of Caramoan.
We were surprised to see the mayor and his siblings in Daraga. It turns out they had some sort of get-together at their ancestral home, a simple wooden house by the beach, also our shelter for the night. Famished from a whole day’s worth of island-hopping, we were thankful that we were eating hot rice, and ginataan at adobong posit under a roof instead of feeding on bread and canned goods in a cold, damp tent.
It was only when I looked at the mirror that I realized how burnt my skin was. And then I remembered how the sun worked its way starting from the 2-hour ferry from Sabang Port to Guijalo Port in Caramoan and continuing on to Lahuy Island and its surrounding islets, scanning for possible camp sites and places of interest for the Travel Factor group Leia plans to bring by the end of March.
We first stopped at the backside of Lahuy, where a gold panning community exists. Ate Weng, who seemed to know everybody led the way into the barrio and showed us how gold was sifted from the sands, cleaned and then heated to solidify into a golden ball. I never expected to witness this from this trip but there it was!
We visited numerous other places, all of which had fine white sand and gin-clear waters. It was ironic that the Caramoan’s pristine beauty was beginning to be repetitive and redundant. But when we saw Sitio Manlawi, even from afar, we knew that it was going to be our camp site. Sitio Manlawi is a cove on Lahuy Island which at low tide, becomes a barren desert of white sand sprinkled randomly with driftwood, dotted with rocks and its surface sculpted with wavy lines created by the receding water. At this time, one has to walk ridiculously far from the shore just to have water at waist level. If only the weather had cooperated. Hay. Babalik naman ako eh.
I can just imagine Manlawi during sunrise. The sun will rise on the horizon and the coast will be exposed with puddles of water creating a rich, colorful reflection instead of a dull, underexposed foreground. One more time. Hay. Babalik naman ako eh.
Most of the villagers, the mayor included, have converged in a small shack nearby. Made with the simplest materials of nipa and used wooden boards, the humble establishment boasts of an ubiquitous Filipino contraption: a videoke machine. There is actually no electricity on the island. The machine is proudly powered by a diesel generator. They can live without refrigerators, television sets or radios. But they can’t live without their videoke.
It’s no surprise that this Caramoanon community can carry a tune. Everybody seems to have their own masterpieces! Mayor Cordial’s seems to be Larawang Kupas as he didn’t even need to look at the lyrics, belting away like a pro. As the countless five-peso coins clinked to every well-performed song, so did the bottles of Gran Matador and Ginebra which almost surely, plunged the whole place into a drunken cloud. Us, most definitely included as there only about 3-4 of us downing two Ginebra 4x4s. Take this: no ice, no chaser.
And then they began to play “Touch By Touch”, a quirky, somewhat irritating, ancient dance song. This drove the lolas to the “dance floor” grinding with reckless abandon. Pretty soon, they were pulling us in as they desperately needed dance partners. The village men cheered on, amused by the sight of pit-drunk Manileños who gamely drank with them. And then they played “Touch by Touch” again. And again. And yet again.